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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: March 2018

Myths And Traditions About Hot Cross Buns According To The Smithsonian:

Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten during Lent, especially in the week leading up to Easter. Marked with an icing cross on top, they’ve been a holiday staple in many countries for centuries. (Versions of the hot cross bun even appeared in ancient Greece.) Given the bun’s long history, legends and superstitions have developed over time.

Here are a few:

Some believe the hot cross bun originated in St Alban’s, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk at St Alban’s Abbey, developed a recipe called an”Alban Bun” and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday.

In 1592, during the reign of Elizabeth I, it was forbidden to sell spiced bread, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. If you violated the decree then you had to give all of your bread to the poor.

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow moldy during the subsequent year. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all loaves of bread turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.

Another tradition encourages keeping a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.

If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwrecks.

They also expel bad spirits. Due to the blessed cross on top, hot cross buns hung in the kitchen are supposed to protect from evil spirits.

Those who share a hot cross bun are said to enjoy a strong friendship and bond for the next year. A line from an old Irish rhyme captures this lore, “Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.”

I certainly wish my version of Hot Cross Buns brings you good luck!

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

12 buns

Ingredients

1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 cups bread flour or 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons.wheat gluten
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sourdough starter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins
Powdered sugar icing, recipe below

Directions

Combine the flour, wheat gluten, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix with a paddle attachment to thoroughly combine the ingredients.

Add the sourdough starter, milk, butter, and vanilla. Mix together until a dough forms. Add the raisins, and mix into the dough.

Switch to the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth — about 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat the top. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double — about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough. Divide into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball. Place in a greased 13×9 inch baking dish.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap; let rise in warm place until double — about 30 minutes.

Bake in a preheated oven 400°F for 20 minutes or cooked in the center and golden brown in color.

Cool on wire rack. Be sure the buns are completely cool before adding the frosting or the frosting will melt over the buns.

Powdered Sugar Icing

Combine the following ingredients to make a thick frosting.

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk

With a spoon, drizzle icing in a cross pattern over each bun.

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Mu (or Moo) Shu is a dish of northern Chinese origin and it is believed to have first appeared on the menus of Chinese restaurants in the United States in the 1960s.

In its traditional Chinese version, moo shu pork (木须肉 / mùxūròu) consists of sliced pork tenderloin, cucumber, and scrambled eggs, stir-fried in sesame or peanut oil together with thinly sliced wood ear mushrooms (black fungus) and enokitake mushrooms. One of the first restaurants in Manhattan to serve the dish was Pearl’s, one of the best known New York City Chinese restaurants at the time. A 1967 article in The New York Times states that another of the first restaurateurs to serve the dish in Manhattan was Emily Kwoh, the owner of the Mandarin House, Mandarin East, and Great Shanghai restaurants.

At the time of its introduction, the dish was prepared in a traditional manner, but, as wood ears and daylily buds were scarce, a modified recipe was developed. In this modified recipe, which gradually came to be the norm in North America, green cabbage is an ingredient, along with scrambled eggs, carrots, scallions, and bean sprouts, along with lesser amounts of daylily buds and wood ear mushrooms. The American version is more like the filling for Chinese Spring Rolls. Shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, snow pea pods, bell peppers, onions, and celery are sometimes also used, and dry sherry is often substituted for the huangjiu.

Although most commonly made with pork, the same basic dish can be prepared by substituting another meat or seafood. Many Chinese families use chicken but shrimp and beef are less common in home cooking. The dish is served with rice or noodles and soft tofu in China. In America, the dish is served with hoisin sauce and several warm, steamed, thin, white tortilla-like wrappers made of flour, called “Mandarin pancakes”; these are similar to those served with Peking Duck.

Now, here is my version:

Ingredients

Marinade
3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch strips

Stir-fry
2 medium stalks celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves grated garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced into ½-inch strips
1 cup sliced green onions (scallions)
4 cups sliced cabbage (½-inch strips)
8 oz can Bamboo shoots, drained
1 cup bean sprouts (mung beans for stir-frying)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Chinese Pancakes, recipe below

Directions

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl, add the chicken, and mix to coat. Prepare the vegetables, and grate the ginger and the garlic so everything will be ready when it is time to cook.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, and stir-fry until just cooked through, probably 3 to 4 minutes depending on how thick you cut the chicken. Remove the chicken from pan to a bowl.

Add the celery, ginger, and garlic to the skillet. Saute for one minute.

Add the rest of the vegetables in the following order: mushrooms, green onions, cabbage, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, stir-frying for 1 to 2 minutes after each addition:

Add the soy sauce and the chicken. Toss to combine. Serve with warm Chinese pancakes and hoisin sauce.

Chinese Pancakes

Options for the Pancakes:
Use regular, low carb or gluten-free tortillas
Make Crepes – regular, low carb or gluten-free
Or make authentic Chinese Mandarin Pancakes

Mandarin Pancake Ingredients
1½ cups flour
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon oil

Directions

Mix the flour and salt in a heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water into the flour mixture and use chopsticks or a spatula to mix until a dough ball forms. Once it is cool enough to handle, knead the dough for 8 minutes until smooth, adding flour if the dough is too sticky. Cover with plastic and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a dough ball, then flatten them out into a small disc about 2 inches in diameter. Lightly brush all areas of 6 of the discs with oil. Layer the remaining 6 discs over the 6 oiled discs so you have 6 pieces, each composed of 2 discs.

Use a rolling pin to roll the discs into 7-inch circles, turning the pancakes frequently so both of the dough discs are rolled into the same size.

Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-low heat, and place one pancake in the pan. After 30 to 45 seconds, you should see air pockets begin to form between the two pancakes. Flip the pancake; it should be white with just a couple of faint brown patches. Any more than that, and they are overcooked. After another 30 seconds, the air pockets should be large enough to separate the two pancakes. Remove the pancake to a plate, and let it cool for another 30 seconds. Now carefully pull apart the two pancakes at the seams. Place finished pancakes onto a plate and cover with a warm kitchen towel. Repeat until all the pancakes are done.


Springtime On The Gulf Coast

I am a home cook that hates to waste food. I also don’t like heated up leftovers. So…I try to think of ways to reinvent my leftovers. In the past week, I had cooked asparagus, green beans, Swiss chard, Italian sausage and mini bell peppers to use up. The new recipes turned out just fine.

Ham and Asparagus Quiche

This is a good dish to use up some of your leftover cooked vegetable sides. We like this dish for a lighter dinner and I serve it with a salad.

6 servings

Ingredients

Press in the Pan Crust

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour or Bob’s Red Mill Low Carb or Gluten-Free Baking Mix
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 oz (1 stick ) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3-4 tablespoons cold water

Quiche Filling

3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup baked ham cubes
1 cup chopped cooked asparagus
½ cup chopped cooked green beans
¼ cup cooked sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

To make the pastry

Place the flour, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter is cut into little pieces. Slowly drizzle in the cold water by tablespoons until the dough comes together.

Remove the dough from the processor and press onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes until the edges begin to brown.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling

In a medium mixing bowl combine all the filling ingredients. Pour the mixture into the partially baked pie crust. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 35-40 minutes until set. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting.

Sautéed Swiss Chard

This was the original recipe, I made for a side dish.

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion finely chopped
2 large bunches of Swiss chard, washed in several changes of water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Directions

Drain the washed chard very well. With a knife, remove the chard stems that run up the middle of each leaf.Save them for soup.

Cut the leaves into smaller pieces.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and black pepper.

Heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are tender.

Add the chard leaves and cook, covered, for 3-5 minutes until the leaves are wilted and brightly colored. Add a tablespoon of water to the pan if it seems like the leaves are getting too dry.

Add salt to taste and serve as a side dish. Reserve leftovers to make the patties for another meal.

Swiss Chard Patties

Ingredients

2 cups leftover cooked Swiss chard
2 tablespoons flour
1 scallions, minced
1 egg
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Heat a stovetop griddle or a large frying pan. Oil the griddle. With a muffin-scoop drop batter onto the hot griddle.

Cook until lightly brown on the underside, Turn the patties over and cook until lightly brown. These patties make a delicious side dish.

If you have patties leftover, they make a great breakfast. Heat the patties in a skillet. Top each with a fried egg.

Sausage and Peppers with Spaghetti Squash

3 servings

Ingredients

4 cooked Italian sausage links
6 mini bell peppers, assorted colors
1 small yellow onion
1 ½ cups homemade or store-bought Marinara Sauce
One 2 lb spaghetti squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F and halve squash lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds from the middle of each half.

Arrange the squash halves in a baking dish, cut sides down. Pour 1/2 cup water into the dish and bake until just tender, 30 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and drain the water from the baking dish. Set the squash aside to cool.

Cut the onion and peppers into thin slices. Cut the sausage into ¼ inch circles.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and peppers and cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the Marinara sauce and sliced sausage. Heat the mixture until hot.

With a fork rack back and forth across the cooled squash to remove its flesh in strands…like spaghetti!

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add salt and black pepper to the skillet and then add the squash strands. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the squash is hot. Don’t overcook. Add the parsley, mix and serve with the sausage and peppers.


Italian Hazelnut Ricotta Cheesecake

Ricotta cheesecake is tops in our family and I have shared several versions with you over the years. This version is especially suited for a holiday or for when you have guests. It makes a beautiful presentation. It can also be adjusted for special diets.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
32 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
4 oz cream cheese
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar or equivalent sugar substitute for baking
3 tablespoons all-purpose or low carb or gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon hazelnut flavored syrup
Strawberry Sauce, recipe below

Directions

For the crust:

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line the outside of an 8-inch springform pan with a double layer of aluminum foil. Coat the inside of the springform pan with cooking spray.
Process the hazelnuts until finely ground in a food processor. Combine the hazelnut flour, butter, and cinnamon in the processor until the mixture is crumbly.
Pat the mixture onto the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, 10-12 minutes; cool on a wire rack.

For the cheesecake:

In the food processor fitted with a metal blade, process ricotta until very smooth. Add cream cheese; process until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, processing until incorporated. Add sugar or sugar substitute, flour, and hazelnut syrup. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour filling into cooled crust; smooth top.

Place the pan in a larger pan and add water to reach halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the water bath for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake finish baking in the turned off oven with the door closed for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the foil and cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate. When well chilled, remove the cheesecake from the springform pan, cut into wedges and serve with the Strawberry Sauce.

Quick Strawberry Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon hazelnut flavored syrup

Directions

Combine the ingredients in a microwave-safe dish. Heat in the microwave for one minute. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir well. Cover and refrigerate. Serve a little of the sauce over slices of the ricotta cheesecake.

Polish Easter Nut Bread

My mother-in-law made this bread every year for the holidays. I remember what it tasted like and that it took her several days to make this traditional bread. She also made about 8 loaves to share with the family. The recipe was in her head and never written down. I looked at a number of Polish recipes for Easter Nut Bread but none of them seemed to be like hers. Her version was round, not long like most photos I saw on the internet. So I created a version of this bread that tastes like hers but with a lot less work.

Dough Ingredients

This dough is very tender and delicious, not at all heavy or dense.

3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Directions

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few turns to evenly distribute the ingredients. Add the butter cut into cubes and the egg, water, and cream. Mix until combined and the dough begins to stick together. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about 7 minutes. It should be smooth and soft.

Put the dough in a large buttered bowl and cover it with a towel. Let it rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.

While the dough is rising, prepare the walnut filling:

Ingredients

10 ounces walnuts
4 ounces (1 stick unsalted butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To make the walnut filling:

Put the walnuts in a food processor until finely ground.

By hand or in a mixer, cream the butter and the brown sugar until smooth. Stir in one egg, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Add the ground walnuts and mix until incorporated. Set aside.

To make the pastry:

Place the risen dough on a lightly floured board and roll it into a 20- by 15-inch rectangle.

Spread the walnut filling evenly over the dough. From the long end, roll up the dough, pinching the ends to the sides to seal it. Pull the dough to a length of 25 inches and twist the roll into a circle. Place it on a large parchment-lined baking sheet.

Let the dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours until doubled.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush it on the dough. Bake the walnut roll for 40 to 45 minutes, until it is a dark golden brown color and registers 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Let the walnut roll cool for 15 minutes and then slice it yo serve it warm. The pastry can also be reheated in a 350 degree F oven.


Roasted Salmon With Chive Sauce

This chive sauce makes salmon so delicious.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

For the oven roasted salmon

1 large skinless salmon fillet (about 675g | 1-1/2lb), cut into 4 equal pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
4 pats of butter

For the chive sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup (240ml) chicken broth
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus extra for garnish

Directions

For the salmon:

Preheat the oven to 450°F; place the salmon in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each piece of salmon with a pat of butter. Roast in the preheated oven until the top of the fish starts to brown, about 15 minutes.

For the chive sauce:

While the fish is in the oven, heat the butter in a small saute pan set over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook until golden then add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer; simmer for about a minute then whisk in the mustard.

In a small container, whisk the cornstarch in the cream and then add this to the simmering sauce; whisk until well incorporated and the sauce thickens, about 45 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the fresh chopped chives.

Remove the roasted salmon from the oven and pour the chive sauce over the fish. Garnish with more chopped chives and serve.

Pan-fried Potatoes and Onions

Serves 4

To keep this dinner low carb, I used rutabaga instead of potatoes for this typical potato recipe. Either vegetable works well.

Ingredients

Salt and Pepper to taste
2 ½ lbs red potatoes or rutabaga, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Cut the potatoes or rutabaga into thin slices about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced potatoes or rutabaga and cook until the bottom layer begins to brown. Keep an eye on it because they will burn. Once the browning begins, turn the slices over with a metal spatula. When the potato or rutabaga start to soften, add the onions and turn the entire mixture with the spatula to mix.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Continue frying until the slices are evenly browned and soft, and the onions are caramelized.

Green Beans with Mushrooms

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed and cut in half
4 oz cremini mushrooms sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the green beans in a large skillet with a cover. Pour water into the pan to just cover the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a strong simmer, cover the pan and cook the beans for 2 minutes. Drain the beans and set aside.

Add the oil and garlic to the empty skillet and heat for a minute. Add the mushrooms and thyme. Saute until the mushrooms are no longer releasing their liquid. Add the drained green beans and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until they are tender. Don’t overcook. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.


Cacciatore means “hunter’s style.” This dish developed in central Italy and is considered a country-style dish in which chicken pieces are simmered together with tomatoes. The dish originated in the Renaissance period (1450-1600) when the only people who could afford to enjoy poultry and the sport of hunting. Tomatoes were added after the explorers brought them to Europe from the Americas and the original dish was made with pheasant or rabbit. This dish became a staple in Italian-American homes and there are many ways to make this dish. My grandmother and my mother made it often and I continue the tradition a bit differently. Hope you like my version.

Chicken Cacciatore

Serve with a mixed green salad.

Ingredients

One 4 lb organic chicken
2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
1/3 cup all-purpose, low carb or gluten-free flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 oz sliced cremini mushrooms
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 (26-oz.) container Pomi brand finely chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb cooked thin spaghetti or zucchini noodles

Directions

Cut the chicken into 8 pieces (cut breasts in half). Save the wings and backbone for soup.
Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer on a large plate. Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Place the flour in a ziplock bag. Place a few pieces of chicken in the bag with the flour, seal and shake the bag until the chicken is coated. Remove the coated chicken pieces to the plate. Continue until all the chicken pieces are floured.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add a layer of chicken and brown on both sides. Remove the browned chicken to the plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and brown the remainder of the chicken. Remove to the plate.
Add the vegetables to the pot; reduce the heat to low and sauté until the vegetables are softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, remaining salt and pepper and the browned chicken pieces to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 1 ½ hours or until the chicken is very tender. Serve with thin spaghetti.

Italian Country Bread

Ingredients

2 teaspoons SAF (instant) yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

Place the warm water in an electric mixing bowl. Add honey. Mix until the honey is dissolved.
Add the 4 cups of flour and salt and mix. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the flour.

Using the paddle attachment on number 2 speed, mix the dough until a dough forms that holds together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook and continue kneading for 7-8 minutes, until the dough is soft but supple.

Shape the dough into a ball. Spray the mixer bowl with olive oil cooking spray and place the ball of dough back into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double, about 60 minutes.

Place a sheet of parchment paper in a 9 or 10-inch pan or shallow dish. Turn the dough out onto the parchment pan or dish. Gently shape the dough into a round and cover with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes or more.

At the same time put a covered Cloche pan or Dutch Oven in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Do not grease or spray the Cloche pan or Dutch Oven. Baking in a cloche pan is similar to a mini hearth oven.

After the dough has risen for 30 minutes and the oven temperature is at 500 degrees F, open the oven and take the lid off the cloche pan.

USE A THICK POTHOLDER BECAUSE THE LID IS VERY HOT!

Transfer the dough while on the parchment to the bottom of the hot cloche pan. Cover with the cloche lid.

Bake for 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and remove the cloche lid.

Bake 15 minutes more, or until bread is crusty and brown. Remove the pan from the oven and place the bread on a wire cooling rack.


Tripoli

The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. This series continues with the country of Libya.


Food in Libya is a very important part of family life. A well-known Libyan saying is “one must eat well”. Libyan cuisine is based on the traditions of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Berber cuisines. Tripoli is Libya’s capital, and the cuisine in this city is especially influenced by the Italian cuisine. Pasta is common, as are many seafood dishes. Fruits, most often served, include figs, dates, oranges, apricots, and olives.

The sand in Libya gets so hot in the summer that walking on it with bare feet becomes unbearable. As a result, the Tuareg way of baking bread is to bury it in the hot sand, which is as effective as baking in an oven. The technique can also be used to bake potatoes and eggs by burying them whole in the sand and leaving them there for several hours.

Olive oil is the main ingredient of nearly all Libyan dishes. Its use in North Africa goes back thousands of years, and its life-prolonging properties were well-known to the ancient Libyans and Egyptians.


There are four main ingredients in the traditional Libyan cuisine: olives (and olive oil), palm dates, grains, and milk. These are very ancient foods and they have been in the Libyan cuisine since Neolithic times when humans first began to make use of their natural surroundings. Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups, Bazin, and other dough-based dishes. Dates are harvested, dried and stored for the rest of the year. They can be eaten as they are, made into syrup, fried or eaten with milk for breakfast.

Garlic is also one of the most important Libyan foods, as it is usually added to most dishes that involve sauces or stews, especially those served with couscous and pasta.

One of the most important social occasions in Libya is getting together for tea drinking. This activity brings families together, to chat, laugh, discuss and gossip about the highlights of the day and about life in general. Talking in Libya is a very important social activity and it firmly bonds the family. Libyan tea is a very strong, thick, syrup-like black tea. After boiling water in a traditional teapot, a handful of red tea leaves are added, and the leaves are boiled for a long time (about twenty minutes).

Bazin

Bazin is the most well-known Libyan dish. It is made by boiling barley flour in salted water to make a hard dough and then forming it into a rounded, smooth dome that is placed in the middle of a serving dish. The sauce around the dough is made by frying chopped onions with ground lamb, turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, fenugreek, sweet paprika and tomato paste. Potatoes may also be added. Hard-boiled eggs are arranged around the dome. The dish is then served with lemon and fresh or pickled chili peppers, known as amsyar. Batata mubattana (filled potato) is another popular dish that consists of fried potato pieces filled with spiced ground meat and covered with egg and breadcrumbs.

Make A Libyan-style Dinner In Your Kitchen

Recipes adapted from http://libyanfood.blogspot.com/

Lentil Soup With Fried Onions

Ingredients

2 cups lentils
5 cups water
2 garlic cloves
1 medium carrot
1 onion
1 large tomato
1/2 -1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt

Fried Onions
2 medium onions
Oil for frying

For the Topping
Extra cumin
Toasted bread, cut into cubes or triangles

Directions

Wash and drain the lentils; wash and cut the carrot; chop the tomatoes and onion. Put the onion, tomatoes, carrot, lentils, garlic cloves, salt and cumin in a soup pot.
Add 5 cups of boiling water. Cook, until the lentils, become mushy. Let cool, puree, and add more boiling water if a thinner soup is desired, stir well.

For the topping: Cut the 2 onions into thin slices and fry in a little olive oil stirring constantly until dark brown.

To serve: Place a handful of toasted bread in the soup bowl before ladling on the soup. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of cumin to each bowl. Top with a tablespoon of fried onions.

Libyan Couscous with Fish

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Steamed Couscous
500g couscous (ready-cooked variety can also be steamed)
1 cup of hot water + 3 tablespoons olive oil

Stock
1-2 fish heads (washed, gills removed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground cumin
Salt, to taste
1 1/2-2 liter boiling water

Vegetable Sauce
1 medium onion
1 medium size potato
1 medium size aubergine (eggplant)
1 medium size squash
1 medium-size red bell pepper
1 cup cooked/canned chickpeas (or fresh/frozen peas)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 chili peppers
3-4 garlic cloves

For the Fish and Marinade
4-6 portions of firm-fleshed fish, grouper is the Libyan favorite
4 large cloves garlic
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 chili pepper chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
Olive oil to brush the fish before grilling

Directions

In Libya, steamed dishes are cooked in a kaskas, but any pot with a steamer insert is fine. When steaming couscous you can place a square of cheese-cloth between the pot and steamer if its holes are larger than the couscous.

Put all the ingredients for the stock in the steamer pot. Bring to boil then reduce the heat and cook over medium heat.

Pour 1 cup of hot water and the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous, mix well. Put the couscous in the steamer, then place it above the stock pot. Lightly rake over the top layer only with a spatula a few times during the first steaming, so it gets steamed properly.

After 45 minutes, remove the steamer and put the couscous in a deep plat; pour about 5 ladles of hot stock onto the couscous.

Mix well, then return the couscous to the steamer for another 45 minutes. Stir lightly but thoroughly 2-3 times during the second steaming to break up lumps.

Put all the ingredients for the fish marinade in the food processor, then use this paste to coat the fish on both sides. Cover the fish with cling film (plastic wrap) and set aside.

Cut the onion, eggplant, potato and bell pepper into thick slices.

Prepare the vegetable sauce by putting olive oil, chopped onion, chopped chili and whole garlic cloves in a pot, then stir until they have softened. Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat. Add the peas or cooked chickpeas and about 3 ladles of strained fish stock, so the liquid is just about covering the vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more.

Brush the cut vegetables generously with olive oil and grill until almost cooked. Remove the vegetables from the grill and cut them into cubes. Add the grilled vegetables to the sauce pot.

Grill the fish and keep warm to serve with the couscous.

Remove the couscous from the steamer and place in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables from the sauce on the couscous, spoon some of the remaining sauce around the vegetables. Serve with the grilled fish and lemon wedges.

Date Filled Semolina Cookies

Ingredients

Dough
3 cups semolina
1 cup flour
1 cup oil
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange blossom water added to a ½ liter of warm water

Filling
750g date paste
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)

Syrup
4 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 lemon slice
2 tablespoons orange blossom water

Topping
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)

Directions

Prepare the syrup by simmering all the ingredients except the orange blossom water over moderate heat for 30 minutes or until a syrupy consistency is reached. Add the 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water and set aside to cool. For a richer taste, add 1 tablespoon of honey while the syrup is still warm. Set aside.

For the dough: Mix the semolina, flour, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix. Cover and let rest for at least one hour.

For the filling: Cut the date paste into small pieces and knead. Add some olive oil if the paste is not soft enough to be kneaded. Add cinnamon, grated nutmeg, sesame seeds and knead them in. Roll out the sesame date paste with your palm into 4 long ropes or sticks.

Divide the dough into 4 portions, take one portion of the dough and add the orange blossom flavored warm water a little at a time. Knead well until the dough becomes smooth and easy to shape. The dough will also become lighter in color. Form the dough into a furrow or trench shape and place one of the date rolls in the dough. Pinch closed and smooth the dough over the date roll.

Cut the roll into small pieces and arrange on a baking sheet. Place in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F/220°C until golden, for about 12 minutes. Place the cookies in a single layer in a deep dish. Pour the sugar syrup over the warm cookies.

Turn the cookies every 15 minutes, so they soak in the syrup on all sides. Remove the cookies from the syrup and place in a sieve to remove the excess syrup. Place the drained cookies on a platter and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Let rest overnight before serving.



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